5 Ways to Deal With Insults and Put-Downs

Dr. Neel Burton of Psychology Today offers sage advice on dealing with insults and put-downs. It is a rare person who has not regretted over-reacting to an insult, not having a quick rebuttal to a put-down or simply being able to put negative words out of their minds.

Assessing the Insult

Because it is common to question whether or not something was actually an insult, Dr. Burton gives some examples.  “First, there are, of course, verbal insults, which can be either direct or, more commonly, indirect. Examples of indirect verbal insults are jokes and ironic comments, backhanded compliments, mimicry, and false fascination. As our eyes and facial expressions can substitute for speech, such things as a cold or constant stare, a false or exaggerated smile, or a raised eyebrow can also count as an indirect verbal insult. Then there are much more obviously physical insults such as punching, slapping, or spitting.”

1. Anger. This is the weakest possible response as it implies we take the insult and insulter seriously and suggests that there is truth in the insult. And finally, it destabilizes us and causes us pain.

2. Acceptance. This may seem like a very weak response, but in many cases it is actually the strongest response of all.  If you do not have a knee-jerk anger or dismissive response, you will have the opportunity to consider what has been said.  You can consider several things:  credibility of speaker, validity of the statement and the value of the information.  Ultimately, the weight you put on those three things will determine if you accept the insult as given.

3. Returning the insult. There are several problems with the put-down: it has to be clever and perfectly timed and it puts the insulter on the same level as you.

4. Humor. This is an especially effective response for three reasons: it undermines the insult, it brings the audience (if any) on side, and it diffuses the tension of the situation.

5. Ignoring the insult.  Ignoring the insult is easier and, in fact, more powerful.

Take Responsibility for Your Reaction

Dr. Burton concludes “we need never take offense at an insult. Offense exists not in the insult but in our reaction to it, and our reactions are completely within our control. It is unreasonable to expect a boor to be anything but a boor; if we take offense at his bad behaviour, we have only ourselves to blame.”


When you have a moment…..

Read the complete article at psychologytoday.com.


When not reading, working or attending conferences and networking events, I am supporting my favorite charities: Teen Living Programs where I am a mentor, committee member and Executive Board member and YWCA Chicago where I am an Associate Board Member. I am passionate about causes related to supporting youth, women and families. Particularly in the areas of education, employment, violence intervention, social services and housing. With a keen intuition on helping people tap into their brilliance,  I am passionate about helping people grow. I can be reached at sherryclayton78@gmail.com if you would like to know more about my charities or this blog.


Categories: Self-Awareness

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3 replies

  1. This list would be well-served as a staple in most of our daily quotes or affirmations. Thank you for sharing.

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